Mormon statement on child abuse: Move along, folks; we don’t have a problem

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child abuseYesterday the LDS Church added a resource to the Mormon Newsroom called “Effectiveness of Church Approach to Preventing Child Abuse.” (* See end of post for an update on this resource.)

It has ignited something of a firestorm.

The statement was apparently first written in 2010 by Von G. Keetch, who was at that time chief outside legal counsel for the Church and is now a Seventy. Elder Keetch has represented the Church in several cases about child and sexual abuse.

We might think that such experience would position him to speak frankly about the problems that the LDS Church, like many other religious organizations, has experienced with members and leaders abusing children. Given that the Mormon-dominated state of Utah now ranks fifth in the United States for cases of child abuse—and the highest of any state for child sexual abuse—it’s clear that there is a real dilemma here.

Yet you wouldn’t know that from the statement. Some choice lines:

  • “No religious organization has done more” to prevent and respond to abuse.
  • “The Church’s approach is the gold standard.”
  • “While clergy-abuse cases continue to grab headlines, the Church has had almost no child abuse problems with its clergy.”

Really? That’s what we’re going with?

If Mormons are setting the “gold standard” for the rest of society in how to confront child abuse, then the rest of society is in trouble.

Why is the Church recycling this statement now? My guess is that the alarming case of the San Diego abuser “Mr. Wonder,” which has been in the news over the last week, has put the Church on the defensive. This man fled Louisiana in 1979 when officials there had a warrant for his arrest on charges of child sexual abuse. He has eluded capture for nearly four decades, first in Brazil and then in California.

I’m not sure how the LDS Church in California could be expected to know this man’s history and discipline him for it, since he changed his name and forged an entirely new identity after fleeing Louisiana. I don’t think it’s really fair to accuse the Church of mishandling this.

But the question is: if the Church had known the history in this particular case, what would it have done? There have been enough examples of local LDS leaders—who are not, like other clergy members, professionally trained in how to deal with child and sexual abuse—sweeping matters under the rug that it’s entirely reasonable for us to wonder.

What’s especially weird about the “Effectiveness” statement is that it’s factually incorrect on several key points. These are enumerated blow by blow in an excellent response on Feminist Mormon Housewives, but let me recap a few of the most glaring errors.

No, Mormons are not leading the charge here. It’s disappointing that an LDS statement would make sweeping and self-aggrandizing generalizations to the effect that “child abuse by clergy may be a problem in other religions, but it’s never a problem with us, no sir! And if it were, our church has the absolute best practices and policies in place for addressing it.”

This is just insulting. Many other faiths are way ahead of us on this score: See here for the 2012 PC(USA) policy statement “We Won’t Let It Happen Here: Creating a Child Safe Church,” building on earlier General Assembly resolutions dating back to 1991. Here is the policy in Reform Judaism. Here is the Child Protection Policy in the ELCA. Heck, even the Southern Baptists, that loosest of confederations, have now adopted a centralized policy on child abuse. We could go on and on about the proactive ways that other faiths are getting out in front of this issue.

Note one feature that all of these religions have urged to bolster child protection: background checks for every person who works closely with children and youth. So far, Mormon leaders have not followed this lead.

No, “preventing and responding to child abuse” is not “the subject of a regular lesson during Sunday meetings.” Where does this assertion even come from? I’ve never been in a church meeting that was devoted to issues like learning the signs of abuse, counseling victims, documenting cases, and reporting suspicions to the police. And I sure don’t see this in our Sunday curriculum.

No, we don’t have a policy that prohibits an adult male from ever being alone with a minor. The so-called “two-deep” policy the “Effectiveness” statement boasts of isn’t mentioned anywhere in the 2010 church handbook for bishops and stake presidents, and in fact that handbook states that “worthiness interviews should be private” (7.1.1). In the section for youth, there’s a mention that parents are encouraged “to stay close to their children and counsel them,” but it’s not clear whether that parental involvement is specifically supposed to occur during a teen’s worthiness interview with the bishop or is just general advice about parents being involved in their kids’ lives (7.1.7).

In practice, I don’t see Mormon parents accompanying their teens for their annual interviews; if this has begun to happen, that’s good news that I’d love to hear more about. (Here’s a powerful post at Doves and Serpents about how inappropriate youth interviews can be, offering concrete recommendations for change.)

No, we don’t always call the authorities. On the contrary, some of the documented cases of Mormon abusers show church leaders keeping quiet about the abuse and encouraging victims to handle it privately, if at all. That’s one of the most disturbing facets of the Frank Curtis case, for example. There’s no record that LDS leaders reported Curtis to the police for the abuse and pedophilia that caused his excommunication. And it gets worse: when an apparently penitent Curtis was later rebaptized, he was given another calling with children!

Overall, it’s strange to me that the “Effectiveness” statement insists on the one hand that there’s nothing to see here, that abuse rarely or never occurs in the Church, while on the other puts forward an equally vociferous insistence that LDS authorities have addressed the problem dozens or even hundreds of times from the pulpit.

The second part of that is correct: even a cursory search of the General Conference archives shows the tremendous uptick in mentions of abuse from the 1980s onward.

Mentions of "abuse" in LDS General Conference, 1850-2015. There's a sharp spike beginning in the 1980s, only some of which can be attributed to language (i.e., a century earlier the same problem would have been referred to as "beating").

Mentions of “abuse” in LDS General Conference, 1850-2015. There’s a sharp spike beginning in the 1980s, only some of which can be attributed to language (i.e., a century earlier the same problem would have been referred to as “beating”).

But the reality is that issues only get addressed that often when they are, in fact, issues. Mormon leaders haven’t begun to speak frequently about child abuse because it’s a phantom issue affecting other people in allegedly inferior religions far away; they do so because the problem is already right here in our midst. There are wolves among our sheep.

I would like to see a different kind of statement from the Church, one that acknowledges the real pain of survivors of abuse.

One that says, “Yes, we understand there have been serious problems in the past, which is why we are implementing the following best practices gleaned from the wisdom that modern psychologists, social workers, religious leaders, and police have to offer.”

Instead what this statement offers is flat-out denial coupled with a blame-the-victim mentality and inexplicable claims about all the great things we’ve done to prevent a problem that — did we mention? — never existed among our people anyway.

 

Update: After posting this I was made aware that the Newsroom just added the following qualifier to this statement:

“The following article was published in 2010. Some bloggers have written that the Church ‘re-released’ this article on February 1, 2016. The article was not intended to be re-released. Because of a technical error on the website, some past articles have been showing up with the current date. Because of that issue, some understandably saw this as a current release from the Church.” 

I’m glad to hear that this was a mistake, and I applaud the Church for admitting it. Now can we just take this damaging statement off the official LDS website altogether?

  • Ricardo

    Spot on, Jana. But I challenge one statement in your piece.

    When you say you “don’t know how the LDS church in California could be expected to know this man’s history,” you are dismissing the LDS church’s claim to revelation. You are essentially saying that in every case in which an LDS leader abuses a child, there was no revelation to be had which could have prevented a tragic episode.

    If the God to whom stake presidents or bishops turn is silent in precluding the calling of a child abuser into a position of trust over a vulnerable child–resulting in the destruction of a child’s trust and his or her normal life–what possible good is revelation in extending callings?

    And in the case of bishops who abuse children, how is a faithful Latter-day Saint to reconcile placing that man in a position of trust over vulnerable children WHEN EVERY BISHOP CALLING IS APOROVED BY THE FIRST PRESIDENCY?

    Is God fine with LDS leaders abusing children? If not, callings come from…

  • Porter

    Its baffling to me why the church would publicly make this statement: “Adult males who work with children or youth are never alone with a minor.”

    Because every single member of the church knows that this is simply not true from personal experience. We ALL sat through bi-annual bishop’s interviews, alone, behind closed doors, squirming while a much older man asked us extremely personal questions. When I was a teenager I was frequently asked whether I masturbate and about my “inappropriate” conduct with girls I was dating. Creepy does not even begin to describe this practice – and it happens in every ward in the church, every single week!

  • This sounds like a serendipitous mistake. Since the Newsroom accidentally reposted this 2010 release, Mormon leaders have had the opportunity to be reminded at multiple venues that Mormon feminists have common sense policy change suggestions to better prevent abuse that they have advocated for years but that have not been addressed. I hope their next release on the subject is something along these lines: “Mormon leaders meet with feminist advocates to discuss abuse prevention.”

  • Malcolm McLean

    So is the “not re-released” statement to be interpreted as saying that this information was true in 2010 but is no longer true in 2016?

  • That’s a darn good question, Malcolm. I don’t know the answer. I think it’s great that the Church admitted that the reposting of this statement was an accident. While we’re at it, how about repudiating the false claims in the statement itself?

  • Danny S

    This.

    Actually Ricardo, your forgot that God works in mysterious ways. Also, “neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” Isa. 55:8. There, beat you. Darned anti. Just another way the LDS church teaches its god is a jerk. After all, Joseph didn’t want to marry that 14 year old. But God made him by sending an angel with a drawn sword to make him. Why the mormon god inspires bishops to call people as asst. librarian instead of warning the african girls they would be abducted and raped by Boko Haram thugs, hey, it’s all just a mystery. Because, faith.

  • Malcolm McLean

    The apparent date problem is actually one of the least significant features of the document. I usually hesitate to use the term “BS”, but so many of the claims here seem so ludicrous that I’m having to exercise a lot of restraint.

    I don’t believe the claims now, and I doubt that many of them were true in 2010.

  • Malcolm McLean

    April, even if church leaders meet with feminist advocates to discuss abuse prevention – which I think would be a very good idea – I don’t think that you should hold your breath waiting for any kind of acknowledgement that feminist advocates have anything useful to add to the discussion.

    It would be like an extremist of one political party admitting to having found good points in the platform of another party.

  • Elder Anderson

    Jana, I am grateful for the work you do here. The only way to address problems is to confront them head-on. Denial and obfuscation aren’t just ineffective, they erode trust.

    My two cents: Any person in a position of authority ought to have proper training and some kind of counseling credentials such as a state sanctioned license. Each person ought to have a proper background check by an independent authority outside the LDS Church. Finally, the LDS Church ought to require reporting cases of child abuse, molestation, and rape to law enforcement without exception following the same guidelines currently in place for medical providers.

    It bothers me very much to hear reports of untrained people interviewing children and adults about their sex lives, acting as relationship and marriage counselors, providing psychological counseling, and handling criminal matters themselves.

  • WilliamRichardsonMesa

    The Handbook, since at least 1999 has stated: “While interviewing or counseling a person, a priesthood leader may become
    aware of incidents of abuse of a child, spouse, or other person. Abuse cannot
    be tolerated in any form. ” The handbook requires authorities to report any sexual abuse of any child, to state or local authorities in accordance with the law. In AZ, any abuse of those15 years and younger must be reproted — no exceptions. Otherwise, there are legal issues involved when “priest/ penitent” communications are disclosed in violation of that privilege. As for sexual abusers, they are NEVER to receive callings in the Church or elsewhere where they are able to work with, or where they are placed in a position to abuse children. This is so even if they have been re-baptized and are otherwise in full fellow ship. It may not be preached over the pulpit as some might wish, but it is often discussed in leadership settings.

  • WilliamRichardsonMesa

    In AZ, the requirement to report abuse is the same for a bishop as it is for a doctor.

  • Kevin JK

    I’m no statistician, but we have to understand how we got ranked. Are we high because of the # of case/1000 people or per 1000 kids. This makes a difference. Because Utah has more kids as a percentage of the population than any other state, that may affect the numbers.

  • Elder Anderson

    @William

    Unfortunately, authorities almost never have any training/qualifications for recognizing abuse and criminal acts. The very definition of what constitutes “abuse” or a criminal act is left to an untrained authority’s personal discretion, as is the handling of these matters.

    It seems pretty clear from this article that there’s a big discrepancy between state law, LDS Church guidelines and what actually happens. In my mind, a medical provider or licensed therapist with no axe to grind is more likely to follow reporting guidelines than an LDS Church authority who not only lacks proper training but may be under pressure to suppress these matters.

  • Elder Anderson

    One child is one too many. Personally, I prefer acknowledging and fixing problems to quibbling over statistics and rankings.

  • Ben in oakland

    I have made much the same comment when it comes to the Roman Catholic priesthood, who have had a bad history in this subject for at least 1000 years.

    Without the charisma of a vocation, no man can be a priest. The church has its methods of determining whether a vocation is genuine, because many are not. So, we can either conclude that God is calling men to the priesthood whom he knows are going to molest children, and frankly, he doesn’t care. Or, the church’s method for determining a vocation, if not the Fact of a vocation itself, is bogus.

    Every single time I have pointed out the conundrum, if I have received any response to it AT ALL, the subject is deflected “God works in mysterious ways”, or mind numbing discussions of free will and sin. Spoke just like to change the subject to homosexuality, as if it were relevant.

    All of Which is another way of saying we have no idea what we’re talking about.

  • Ben in oakland

    Funny your comment wasn’t up while I was busy finishing mine. God works in mysterious ways is such a load of BS. If it’s all so mysterious, how do you know what anything you may think is true, actually is,

  • Jeff S.

    On the question of bishops being alone with minors: I am a bishop and have communicated to all adults / parents / youth in my ward, from day one, that if any of them (esp. females) would like to have another person present in any interview with me or with anyone else, that is just fine. With young women, regarding sexual morality, I *only* ask the “do you obey the law of chastity?” question before youth temple trips, as is required for a limited use recommend. If the young woman voluntarily raises issues of a sensitive, intimate nature, I stop and ask if she would like to have someone else present (and might strongly encourage it in some situations).

    FWIW: so far (2 years), no one has ever taken me up on the invitation to have another person present in interviews. Also, to the point of having a youth’s parents in the interview, I think most youth (esp. older kids) would be uncomfortable with this. But if both parties are ok with it, no problem from my end.

  • SanAntonioRob

    Because some blogs assumed the church’s post was re-released as a hasty response to X or Y current event, they wanted to clarify this is not a new post. That is all.

    But, the crux of your question is valid.

    I am a 30+ life-long member who has attended all meetings weekly and can remember exactly one lesson dedicated to abuse. This does not constitute “regular lessons”.

    I have only seen the church’s abuse pamphlet handed out once (at that lesson). It’s nice they have them, but if they aren’t handed around they really serve no purpose.

    As far as I have seen, when bishops do interviews with girls and young women, it has always been just those two in a room behind a closed door.

    I have been a seminary teacher and primary teacher and with zero training in youth safety until I got involved with Boy Scouts.

    I wouldn’t call the Church’s record with regards to abuse prevention a catastrophic failure, but it’s nowhere near a gold standard either.

  • Bear79

    Jana – Why don’t they just save themselves the trouble and talk to you before making these types of publications? Might save everyone a lot of trouble!

  • One of the problems with “reporting incidents to authorities” is that oftentimes, the authorities will prefer reporting incidents to the religious institution. As a church leader in the southeast, I was called by a new member of our LDS unit to assist him after a domestic dispute. This member had pushed his son (19) to the ground and threatened him. The member claimed to me and the officers his wife was guilty of incest with his son and that his son was guilty of larceny. Shortly after I arrived the authorities thanked me for coming and turned the family and their issues over to me, a young Navy officer with 1 year of professional experience in a field unrelated to counseling or criminal law. The officers said they just didn’t have the manpower to deal with these issues and when clergy showed concern for the parties involved in disputes they felt secure handing over the case to us. Frankly, I had more hope and healing to offer than the authorities could or would.

  • Elder Anderson

    @nrich
    “..oftentimes .. prefer reporting incidents .. to the religious institutions.”

    LDS Church authorities (e.g. Bishops) are laymen with no formal training, and this is unusual. Pastors in every other major denomination receive extensive formal training in counseling and psychology. If you identified yourself as clergy, the officers likely assumed you had this formal training.

    If police officers saw evidence of a serious crime they would not just walk away. They may have felt counseling was sufficient, and I can understand they didn’t want to spend too much time on that and that they wanted to defer to what they thought was a trained pastor.

    Also, when you say “oftentimes” what do you mean exactly? This happened to you personally many times? This happens to other LDS clergy often?

  • Wayne Dequer

    As a former local leader in the Church I had 3 experiences in dealing with abuse.
    1. A man who had been investigated by police and prosecutors for abusing his own children was ultimately cleared by the legal system. He then applied to renew a long lapsed temple recommend. This led to a disciplinary council. He disputed some of the claims by his now adult children, but what he freely admitted, especially given his position of trust a the time, demanded excommunication, which he received.
    2. A ward member has an annotated record for abusing his own child 20+ years previously. He had both gone through the secular legal system and been excommunicated. He had paid his debt to society, received counseling, repented, been rebaptized and had his blessing restored. However, the annotation instructed us to never call him to a position involving children or youth.

    (hopeful continued )

  • Wayne Dequer

    3. 3 times as a bishop I called the confidential helpline about abuse. These were cases of likely spousal abuse and one involved possible movement toward child abuse. I received legal advise tailored to my location and profession. I was also questions and discussed what I could do to help with the problems. None of the wives was willing to file charges, seek a restraining order, or even move out. The individuals I talked with asked if I had helped the abused individual formulate a realistic escape plan if things got worse. That was especially the case where there were concerns about the children. I was encouraged to do what I could to closely monitor the situation.

    These are not statistical observations, but the are significant anecdotal comments about the important issues raised. I am grateful that Jana’s link to the Church article,“Effectiveness of Church Approach to Preventing Child Abuse.” Those teachings have always guided my attitudes and actions.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Jeff,

    I applaud many of your approaches. However, Bishops have a special responsibility to work with the youth. Have you been impeded in candidly teach the law of chastity and other sensitive issues including the plague of pornography? I presume your ward has normal individuals with the range of normal through extraordinary problems. Do you think that your approach has limited your ability to help member of your congregation to confess and repent of their sins involving sexual conduct?

  • Wayne Dequer

    LDS leaders are indeed given some training. See https://www.lds.org/manual/preventing-and-responding-to-child-abuse-helps-for-members?lang=eng . There is also specific and mandatory child abuse prevention training provided for adults involved in LDS sponsored Cub and Boy Scout units (see http://www.scouting.org/Training/YouthProtection.aspx — refresher courses are also mandatory ).

  • Mike

    When I was in local leadership level, we never had training in this area. We had a wonderful stake presidency, but they decided all training and it was never brought up. I see that as a major problem. regardless if this article was posted now or six years ago, it is a big pat on the back that really borders on lying for the Lord territory. The church does very little in this area that I have seen. The news room post takes a very serious topic and disrespects it with this fluff.

  • Jeff S.

    Wayne – we spend plenty of time with the youth discussing the issues you raise, although we do not approach it in what I would call “old school” fashion, which my experience tells me very often creates or makes the problems worse (e.g. “licked cupcake”, always a heavy, “scary” talk when discussing sexuality).

    With the young men, I do discuss more personal matters, mainly because (1) we’re both male, and (2) they will be asked about these issues before Melchizedek Priesthood / mission. But they all know the questions they will be asked – no surprises. We discuss these openly in YW / Priest Quorum.

    I have never felt comfortable going into detail with YW on these matters, unless *they approach me* (one YW did just that this past Sunday, and it was a very productive discussion). It comes across as creepy and inappropriate. I may be overly sensitive to this issue, but I’ve talked and counseled with many trusted individuals about this, including many women, and this approach…

  • Jeff S.

    (cont’d)…has been applauded by them.

    As to your question “Do you think that your approach has limited your ability to help members of your congregation to confess and repent of their sins involving sexual conduct?”, I’m not sure I understand. I don’t know encouraging a “safe” environment, esp. for females, would impede a member from confessing and repenting. I would hope the opposite would be the case, no?

  • maddy

    I am curious as to what type of training ward and stake leaders actually get.
    Most “leadership” meetings resemble just another church/sacrament (without the sacrament) meeting. Very little of what I would call actual training is done.

    I can remember one single time (in 40+ yrs) when someone raised the issue of child abuse in a leadership meeting. And someone (not a leader) advised those listening to contact authorities if they became aware of potential child abuse.

    This is not the first time or first issue where I find the response from legal counsel for the church to be “disappointing.”

  • Mike

    A lot of the training is right from the handbook. We have training on Bishops storehouse, Deseret industries, spiritual topics. A lot of the stake bishopric meetings deal with calendar and activities coming up. It is not very exciting stuff.

  • Jennifer

    The Church may attempt to do more but in many cases it is left I the hands of local leaders to act or not act. In my case if was to not act. In my case it was to be told it was a commandment that I be sealed to the abuser I had reported. There was no hotline for me, there was no help for me. I had no choice but to run away. To protect myself because no adult would. Now as adult *I* am repeatedly called to repent by those who believe I am unwilling to
    Forgive and forget- even when “forgetting” in the past has reopened the cycle of abuse. Where is the counsel for those of U.S. bound in these toxic families?

  • Kyle

    Porter, it’s a shame that you felt those questions were so personal, and it is a shame that you had a Bishop you constantly asked you if you masturbated and about your inappropriate contact with girls. In my opinion if he was probing you so much you probably had need of it, am I right? Secondly a bishop normally focuses on every aspect of your life not just your sexual relations. I had 3 Bishops as a youth and not once did I ever feel uncomfortable or violated. I was behind closed doors the entire time, however the Bishop’s office is always connected to the clerk’s office and there was always someone in the clerk’s office. They are worthiness interviews though, and there are standards that regard a sexual nature, unless you feel that God should not expect us to maintain a level of sexual morality. I would venture to say further that you have not been in every ward in the world. It does happen, people are not perfect, but those imperfect choices will be accountable to those who…

  • Wayne Dequer

    Thanks for your thoughtful responses. My questions were genuine and Not veiled criticisms. I agree that the “old school” approaches you mention are, in fact, inappropriate and often counterproductive. I am glad it is going well.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Training could certainly vary in different stakes and ward.
    1. The subject is covered very briefly in General Handbook 2 which all leaders should study and which is available to all on line. It is covered in 21.4.2 which has a like to material with which all bishopric and stake presidency member should study (see https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/selected-church-policies?lang=eng#214 ).
    2. Additionally there is a specific manual, “Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse” which leaders in our ward studied and discussed (https://www.lds.org/manual/preventing-and-responding-to-child-abuse-helps-for-members?lang=eng ).
    3. There is also specific and mandatory child abuse prevention training provided for adults involved in LDS sponsored Cub and Boy Scout units (see http://www.scouting.org/Training/YouthProtection.aspx — refresher courses are also mandatory ). In our ward this included bishopric and primary presidency members.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Leadership meetings in the church are supposed to focus on helping individuals and training rather than discussing calendars and events (see https://www.lds.org/topics/serve-and-teach/lead-in-the-church?lang=eng ). Some may still be holding “traditional meetings” rather than those described in the General Handbook and Church-wide leadership training.

    In training in our ward, members of Ward council were assigned to study a section of General Handbook 2, and then we discussed it in Ward Council. This was usually done monthly. In PPI’s afterward the Bishop discussed with the Leader of each organization using the same process in training within their organization on the general sections of General Handbook 2 and the one pertaining particularly to them.

  • Wayne Dequer

    The Newsroom site that is singled out at start article is Not indicative of the overall efforts of the Church in dealing with abuse. The church actually has extensive materials on preventing abuse. When you type child abuse into the search feature at lds.org 9 or 10 subheading come up.
    1. “child abuse prevention” yields 3 pages of materials headings — not all of which deal directly with child abuse prevention, but many do. For example, one of those is a video about starting to teach children in the home about intimacy as early as 2 so they will develop boundaries that will help them resist any attempts at sexual abuse.
    2. The page at https://www.lds.org/topics/abuse?lang=eng leads to many more resources.
    3. A 2011 Priesthood/Relief Society lesson about abuse is found at https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-28?lang=eng .

    Of course in teaching, the Church generally teaches principles and then helps individuals implement them. Look and see. 😉

  • Wayne Dequer

    Jana says: “I would like to see a different kind of statement from the Church, one that acknowledges the real pain of survivors of abuse.” When in enter “victims of abuse” into the lds.org search engine, I get 5 pages of materials headings including “I Just Needed to Cry,” “Hidden Agony,” “Conversation on Spouse Abuse,” “Hop and Healing,” “Dispelling the Darkness of Abuse,” counsel to “seek help immediately,” ” victims of such abuse often grow up with deep, unresolved feelings of guilt, unworthiness, anger, and betrayal,” “victims of sexual abuse are likewise guilty of no sin,” etc. Look and see!

  • Elder Anderson

    An adult asking a minor child if the child masturbates is creepy and amounts to child abuse. There’s no excuse for it. There’s no reason for it. It needs to stop.

  • Back in the mid-2000’s the ward my family had moved into split. The new bishop called a man as second counselor and a few months later was keeping the adults behind to let us know that that man had been arrested for molesting one of his students (he was a school teacher). The LDS church couldn’t cover it up, as it was on the news. I had a creepy vibe from him from day one, and had tried to help him with his nerves when he took the stand. But I knew that his problem was from sin. So why didn’t I say something? Because what would I say?

    In a church that preaches personal revelation, so much of it is rejected. This is not always the case, but too many times it is. While I think that the LDS church (as usual) paints a picture far prettier than the reality, the fact is- what more can they do? While I personally think that rejecting their teachings of authoritarianism would go very far in fixing the problem, it would destroy the religion Brigham Young created.

  • Elder Anderson

    This is the best response to Jana’s article I have seen, and I think it gets to the heart of the matter. As to Jana’s points, the Church ought to be honest and realistic. Jana is correct: the article is flat out wrong and the Church needs to correct it.

    But your post asks: what can we do about this without destroying the essence of our Church? That, in my mind, is the key question. My answer is to update our perspective.

    There was a time when adultery was a capital offense, but this is no longer so (in the United States). Likewise, we know masturbation is a normal, healthy and universal way for humans to deal with sexual urges. It doesn’t cause blindness nor insanity, and it’s not “sinful”. The same applies for young people exploring sex. It’s what humanity is all about. We now know that instilling guilt and fear about sex is psychologically damaging to children. We can update our perspective and methods without fundamental changes to the Church.

  • Geoffrey McGrath

    Your disinterest in protecting children from the actual abuse that occurs in bishops offices is showing, and your trust in a disinterested and capricious god to protect those children (or ignore their needs) is telling. It is the same as the brethren’s, and it is predicated on being above all criticism or transparency. When no wrong can be done because woowoo, then we have thrown the sheep to the wolves.

  • Ben in oakland

    Couldn’t possibly be that the inquisitor was getting off on the responses. Nah, that never happens, does it?

  • Geoffrey McGrath

    Look. Any ward or stake can adopt for itself best practices and fix this locally, and by example and exhortation work it up the chain. Are any to date? No, but don’t let that stop you. And by the way, not doing it locally (or requiring it if you are not in the local heirarchy) doesn’t excuse anyone from complicity in the sorry state of youth protection in your local church unit. Mormons are great at looking up to authority. How about grow up a little and look at ourselves and our peers?

  • RC

    the 80s was the time when stories of satanic ritual child abuse started making headlines nationwide. The 90s was the time of the glenn l. pace memo which was suppressed by the church and Pace was sent far away from Utah after that. I think there are very specific reasons why child abuse saw an uptick in the 80s and thereafter in conference talks and probably many other areas of American consciousness. I have heard stories of SRA victims in the last few years. Much of the time their abuse is tied up with the temple for reasons I can only speculate.

  • RC

    I think church leaders have proven they can not or will not listen to God. Church members are entitled to revelation too. Many people fail at receiving revelation.

  • Josh Dobbins

    The fundamental fact that Jana failed to acknowledge is that Utah is 5th in child abuse “cases” because the Church has one of the most effective systems for identifying and reporting child abuse when it occurs. Nationwide, less than 12 percent of child sex abuse gets reported. Based on statistical extrapolation, roughly 88 percent of child sex abuse that occurred in Utah in 2015 was reported. The Church’s doctrine on child abuse is very clear. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” The Church must be doing something right.

  • RC

    I meant to click “reply” here. You state it’s shame and unusual for a bishop to ask these questions, then you say a bishop will be asking these questions because sex is what worthiness is based on, at least in large enough part for the questions to be asked every time. You might not have a normal perception as many of us in the church don’t until we fight for it much later. Later we realize what we thought was normal was actually not, and pretty creepy.

  • RC

    In many states including Utah, the law allowed exceptions where “confessions” to clergy are involved. This basically allows everything to potentially fall under this exception, i.e. no mandatory reporting. As for the rest of your statement about never receiving callings with children again, even after rebaptism, I would like to see that in writing somewhere. The way wards are set up, it is quite easy for a predator to mingle with his former prey even if he/she isn’t their sunday school teacher.

  • Josh

    Dear Jennifer, I am so sorry for your suffering. I know that through the atonement of Jesus Christ you can find healing and peace. The Church does have a hotline that you can call for help: 1-800-453-3860 ext 2-1711

  • RC

    as horrible as that is, he mentioned the son was 19 (legal adult)

  • RC

    if abuse cannot stop without destroying the church, church be damned. who is hesitating here? It must not be all it is said to be if it will be destroyed.

  • SanAntonioRob

    Based on extrapolation of what/whose statistics? I would like to see how that was derived. You would need rate of reported abuse in Utah vs. experts’ estimate of actual abuse rate in Utah, and compare that to rate of reported abuse nationwide vs. experts’ estimate of actual abuse rate nationwide. I love our Church and members. But I highly doubt Utahns are more than 7x better at reporting abuse than the national average. Please provide the data.

  • SanAntonioRob

    You sound like a great Bishop. The steps you have taken are commendable.

    I am not sure the fact no one has taken you offer is proof that don’t want to. Yes, you have offered. But the default Church position is you are “supposed to” have a 1-on-1 with your Bishop. The cultural assumption is you are “supposed to” be okay with it. Not all teenagers, but many (I would guess most), are highly sensitive to what they are “supposed to” do. Especially when it comes to Church, which is perceived to be tied directly to righteousness and spirituality.

    My guess is, if it were acceptable for a young women to have interviews and confessions with a female leader only, VERY few would choose a male.

    The anxiety is greatly reduced when everyone sticks to the script, like you. Unfortunately, many don’t. And when you are a YW in that situation, most would assume it’s not acceptable to do or say anything about it. That they are “supposed to” be okay with it.

  • SanAntonioRob

    I believe Jana’s overall point is the newsroom article is self-aggrandizing and misleading in how abuse awareness and prevention is handled in the Church. While I appreciate the material included in your replies, I don’t believe it addresses that issue.

    I also don’t think Jana was saying you can’t find any Church material addressing the pain of survivors. She is saying when the Church decided to post a statement in its newsroom, it would have been better spent acknowledging that pain that patting itself on the back based on a misrepresentation of what is actually experienced in the Church.

  • Guest

    This certainly seems like a fundamental change to the Law of Chastity…

  • Memba

    Bear79,
    Your comment comes across as a criticism of Jana–accusing her, more or less, as being so arrogant that she might somehow believe the church should consult her on new policies. Jana does not deserve this snarky remark.

    And ironically, your comment about “talk to you before making these types of publications” is close to what the church really does need to do. It should be getting feedback from members who serve in various callings at all level. I am sure many would be happy to fill out exit surveys. But the church never asks for input like this. And they should. They claim they are not “in a bubble” or out of touch. But I believe they have built gigantic filters to prevent input and feedback from the ranks. Maybe not as bad as “Yertle the Turtle”–but not that far from it either.

    Truth is, the leaders do need to be consulting the rank and file much more when making policy. Unless they know they have received revelation, then they should not just assume…

  • Elder Anderson

    No it isn’t. The law of chastity is no intercourse before marriage and being faithful to one’s spouse. That’s the law. The stuff about masturbation and heavy petting is an interpretation added later. Interpreting the law to allow masturbation and petting doesn’t require any fundamental change to the LDS Church. It’s a matter of letting go of outdated ideas.

  • Josh

    http://dcfs.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/DCFS-Annual-Report-FY15_no-appendix.pdf

    https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/

    http://kutv.com/news/local/utah-has-high-rates-of-child-abuse-sex-abuse-of-children

    “Carrie Jensen of Prevent Child Abuse said Utah has tougher laws than other states and may pursue child abuse more vigorously and that might help explain the high rates.”

  • Jay Bell

    Your article is cruel. The photo is cruel. You wrote it and toned it to give the impression that abuse is systematic, rampant and hidden. None of which is true. The comments are even worse. I get that most of you HATE Mormons. But you are accusing an entire religion of the crimes of a very few. Attacking people who are (very nearly all of them ) trying their best to do the right thing. Reading these comments, especially on a religious news site has left me feeling very sad.

  • Josh
  • Elder Anderson

    Look at it this way. If Martin Luther hadn’t stuck his neck out and pointed out unpleasant things that made people sad, then today you’d be Catholic…. not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂

  • Jay Bell

    Martin Luther was pointing out institutional and doctrinal abuses. Practices at the highest levels such as accepting money as payment for sins. Read the entire statement the church put out in 2010 and not just the selected sentences she used in this article to en cite this long list of “Mormons are bad” comments. To me it reads like a group who is taking this seriously, admitting problems, making it clear that there must be a zero tolerance position on this most vile of sins. Read and prove you read the whole thing.

  • Elder Anderson

    Relax, Jay. You’ll live a lot longer.

  • Ricardo

    I am genuinely curious, Jay. What in the comments gives you get the impression that “most of [us] HATE Mormons”?

    Jana published a well-written item, and we are commenting on it. What about that is hateful?

  • dillet

    Signing your posts as “Elder Anderson” seems intended to imply that you are either a general authority or at least authorized to speak on this subject and therefore to be taken seriously. But from what you’ve said and the way you’ve said it, I sincerely doubt that to be true. Imposter or delusions of grandeur?

  • Wayne Dequer

    Point taken. I am embarrassed today, with having gotten so carried away with posting lists of lds.org materials yesterday. I am really trying to make just 2 points:
    1. My experiences, while holding local leadership positions, in dealing with abuse is pretty consistent with the newsroom article. There are certainly problems with abuse among members of the LDS faith, but I have seen the actual perscribed proceedures work effectively.
    2. While I understand some of the criticism of that article, they should be put context of all the other articles and materials on these topics at lds.org.

    Thanks for reading my comment.

  • Jay Bell

    If you are “genuinely” curious all you need to do is read the whole church statement and determine how serious that religion views the issue and hie they are trying to take steps to not sweep it under the rug. And then read the article and many of the comments yo determine there not merely a disagreement over policy but a special level of judgment being expressed.

  • Jay Bell

    Sorry about the misspellings. I don’t want to accuse any one of something they didn’t do. And perhaps I exaggerated a tiny bit. But I read the article which was pretty damming. So then I read the statement it was referring to and thought it wasn’t the blatant disregard the article and picture portrayed it to be. Then I read through the comments. Ugh. As the uncomfortable pit in my stomach tightend more and more till the end, I said to myself “holy s#!+, these people really hate Mormons”. If that’s not true, then the posts were poorly worded.

  • Guest

    “We know…”
    “We know…”
    “We can update…”
    I have to point out there is a reason we call this “The Church of Jesus Christ” and not ” The Church of We Know…”
    If we change our doctrine, beliefs, teachings, policies, etc. everytime “we know” something new we aren’t following Christ. This is why we believe in continuing revelation. I’m not saying that we can’t learn things that are new and valuable. But whether that knowledge becomes a core change in our beliefs (we have different definitions of “fundamental”) is not up to us – it’s up to Christ. When Christ makes that decision, He tells us through His prophet. That is how Christ “updates: His church.

  • Ricardo

    Jay,

    I don’t want to get into a whole “thing” here, but there is a world of difference in even “a special level of judgment” and most of us HATING Mormons.

    In my view, the LDS church has promoted the “we are persecuted” message to the sad point that people reflexively throw out “you hate us” and “hater” when they can’t otherwise argue a point. I think that’s what you did.

    I happen to agree with Jana’s piece and with several of the comments here. For the LDS church to argue it’s the “gold standard” smacks far more of corporate marketing than it reflects any sense of reality.

  • Elder Anderson

    Dear Dillet,
    On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.
    Signed,
    Elder Anderson

  • Josh

    We must recognize that there are multiple variables involved here. 1. Mortal imperfections 2. Revelation and 3. Agency. Church leaders (including general and local authorities of the church) are privileged to receive revelation but they are also subject to mortal imperfections and they and others have agency and accountability. The account of Martin Harris losing 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript illustrates all three of these variables at work. See D&C 3. I thank God for the divine gift of his Son, Jesus
    the Christ in whom all weakness and sin is swallowed up through the careful application of his merciful atonement.

  • BeckyS

    Then why, when Fulton Brock’s wife confessed to sexual abuse of a minor, did her bishop not report it to the authorities? And why did that bishop suffer no legal penalties for failing to do so?

  • beth

    And either God leads this church from the top down or he doesn’t.

  • Josh

    God is a perfect leader. His children are not perfect leaders. The Son of God is a perfect follower. God’s other spirit children are not perfect followers.

  • Memba

    I think God leads from the top down; and he also doesn’t do it. It is a paradox, but true. Church leaders clearly exercise agency in their callings. They are not directed from top down in everything they do–just like you and me.

    You have to believe that agency trumps inspiration most of the time for all of us, including the prophet. God allows all sorts of stuff to happen in this world that He has the power to stop. But He does not act. He allows wrong decisions to be made. He allows evil people to be evil.

    We often hear people express that they will be happy when Christ comes–I think mainly because we hope that Christ will put a stop to all the horrible injustices we see–among which child abuse is one of the very worst. But God is clearly not stopping evil and causing justice to prevail in the world today.

    He is not managing anything from the top down in an active, consistent way. God is letting some chips fall where they may.

  • Beth

    God doesn’t seem to have enough of an influence to protect victims of abuse in this church. When the bishops are told to call a hotline to lawyers for the church instead of police, when protecting the church over the victim is the priority, when the repentance process doesn’t require the abuser to turn themselves into the police, when the victims are asked what part they played in the abuse or their forgiveness is more important than their healing, God is not leading this church. To anyone that is ok with a child continuing being abused to keep the eternal family together at the council of the bishop or stake president because they are handling it or the spirit has told them they are repentant, you should be first in line to volunteer your own children so the victim gets a break, for once.

  • Beth

    You should read blogs where members and former members post actual abusive experiences they’ve had. This is probably this most positive article I’ve read on the subject. I’ve read some pretty horrifying examples of abuse where church leaders knew and did nothing or made things worse. It all shows how little the leadership knows about how perpetrators of abuse work and are able to continue the cycle. Just be glad you aren’t getting any first hand accounts, it would make you sick.

  • SanAntonioRob

    Ahh, the “I’ll send you on a wild goose chase” approach. Looked at all those links. They do not have the data necessary to make your claim. Not even close. If your number (which appears phony) could be reasonable derived from “statistical extrapolation”, why can’t you give your process. I’m an engineer; I can follow the math if you care to back up your claim.

  • obviously not me

    It may be there, but I can tell you from personal experience it is ignored. During one of those yearly youth worthiness interviews, I disclosed to my bishop that a cousin had repeatedly sexually abused me for several years. My bishop handed me a pamphlet on the atonement and told me that I needed to learn to forgive those who trespass against us. My parents were never told (as they let me know when I told them years later), and the police were certainly never told. This was in 2002 or 2003. I was 15.

  • Kevin

    He doesn’t

  • Kevin

    I find it ironic that a church that immortalizes a man who married 14 year old children and other men’s wives feels they have the right to opine on anything related to abuse of children.

  • Kevin

    Revelation? That is so cute that you believe that these old men actually receive revelation. What exactly have they revealed in the last 20 years? Nothing. They worship a man who bed 14 year old children and other mens wives, they are all a bunch of bigots……trust me, God is no where near the Mormon Cult.

  • Angel

    In our last ward in AZ we had an older teenage boy abusing young girls he’d lure behind the stage in the cultural hall. No authorities were notified, the boy and his parents were just sent to a different ward in the stake. Failure there.

  • NO MORE ABUSE

    This firestorm should put every child abuser on notice. It is time that members make a stand and take care of the children. I have very little confidence the church leadership will ever do anything about this problem until it starts to cost them in monetary assets and PR disasters.

    NO MORE CHILDREN ALONE WITH MEN…ANYWHERE IN THE CHURCH…EVER.

    IF ABUSE IS HAPPENING, MEMBERS WILL TAKE CARE OF THE CHILDREN AND CALL THE POLICE.

    DO NOT DEFER YOUR AUTHORITY TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN BY HANDING IT OVER TO CHURCH LEADERS OR LEADERSHIP.

    WE ARE DUTY BOUND TO TAKE CARE OF OUR CHILDREN. END OF STORY.

  • ED

    I would also ask– if this was a result of some sort of technical glitch, which other articles were rereleased by mistake?? Oh right.

  • Wes Miller

    At 16 I was a victim of abuse by this multi-billion dollar real estate holding corporation posing as the mormon church. i tried to get help. i wrote letters to a stake president – an area president etc. and at all levels was told to do what i was told to do. No one was there to help me.

  • NO MORE ABUSE

    If you want to seek some form of justice for this horrible act, you can file a civil case and at least have your voice heard and make them pay and perhaps impact policy and practices. If you need help, please see the following:

    http://mormonstories.org/matt-long-sex-crimes-prosecutor-discusses-lds-church-child-abuse-policies/

  • sarah

    Don’t call the church hotline! Find an actual trauma-informed mental health provider who isn’t going to tell you to forgive and forget. The church leaders do NOT have trauma-informed training and the hotline is just going to send you to an LDS counselor.

  • B Geary

    That’s all good and well but I doubt you know what it’s like to have someone you love abused for years by someone at church. And it goes unreported by the Bishop because the victim couldn’t come forward at first, but the perp told his Bishop, Stake President, and Mission president and the cops weren’t called. Not once did these trusted leaders come forward and now they deny knowing anything. The church leaders do all they can to find loopholes to avoid legal consequences. “Yeah the perp may have raped 2 children for years, but he repented so it’s all okay.” That’s not acceptable.

  • TAB

    As a mental Heath therapist and former director of agencies who helped investigate and treat child abuse, I agree with and applaud most of what you have written in this article and with most of your recommendations.

    Recommendations I have include: 1) training for all leaders in mandated reporting and recognizing signs of child abuse as well as providing access to professional support for victims. This training shoiuld be for all adult leaders including primary, relief society, young men/young women’s leaders, scout leaders, etc not just bishops and stake presidencies.
    2) Byestander training for all adult and older youth in the church such as is offered by Stop it Now and other evidence based programs.
    3) Annual background checks for all adult leaders assigned to work with children and for all bishopric and stake presidency mission presidency level leaders.
    4) development of a real abuse hotline for members to report abuse by leaders and a separate hotline for victims of abuse…

  • TAB

    5) create advisory panels composed of professionals from the child abuse professional treatment and investigation fields as well as victims to evaluate and approve church police and procedures. The church should financial support the local Children’s Advocacy Center in each community it has a congregation and if no children’s advocacy center exists work with local officials to advocate the establishment of a center to help coordinate the multidisciplinary response and treatment of child abuse. The same for the local domestic violence shelter.
    6) each local congregation should have a list of licensed mental health therapists treained in providing treatment for child abuse and domestic violence and not only refer victims for treatment but also pay with church funds for treatment when no other source of payment is available to support therapy.
    7) The Church should also establish a public forum for victims of abuse and harmful church leader interaction and allow victims to publiclly…

  • TAB

    8) The Church should provide training to leaders who meet with youth on how to address issues of sexuality and chastity. Youth interviews should be voluntary rather than manditory. Youth should be able to sign a written statement that they are endeviring to follow Christ’s teachings and the commandments to obtain a limited use temple recommend rather than having to have a youth interview. Youth should be able to have a person of their choice attend any interview. Youth should be able to pick the person that they wish to provide them with pastoral support including trained women rather than just bishops.
    8) voluntary youth pastoral counseling should continue to be available with leaders who receive more training and who know not to delve into you sexuality but to provide a forum for youth to bring their questions or a safe place for them to begin the process to seek help for abuse. I recommend that most adult youth pastoral counseling be done with two deep leadership of the…

  • TAB

    I recommend that most adult youth pastoral counseling be done with two deep leadership of the youth’s choosing and only one on one if the youth requests it and the leader is comfortable with one on one meetings and when one on one meetings are reauested that another adult regularly observes the meeting thru a peep hole to protect the youth and the leader. For all other adult youth meetings or conversations a strict no one on one and two deep adult leadership policy be observed. (The Church statement seems to suggest on one on one and two deep is currently observed but it is not.)
    9) I recommend that the Church reconsider the tone of its teachings on sexuality and approach it as a positive part of life that requires responsibility and consent. To clearly state that women, girls, boys, and men should be treated with respect and dignity. That masturbation is a private matter and not considered a sin nor is it a sexual matter that requires confession. Also the Church should not equate…

  • TAB

    Also the Church should not equate virtue with lack of sexual experience and clearly show how victims of sexual abuse are not in need of any repentance but often need professional support to heal and the Church will provide referrals to that support (not just thru LDS social services). The church should refrain from asking about specifics about youth sexuality but provid pastoral support as a youth requests.
    10) The Church should retract its statements made about what a good job it is doing and actually adopt some of the best practices other denominations have implemented such as safe santuraries etc.

  • TAB

    11) The Church leaders need extensive training on the local state mandated reporting laws.( Here is where I disagree with the author of this post.). Church leaders under most state laws must report child abuse of a child currently under the age of 18 to the authorities when they learn of the abuse from the child or another source with one exception, any information about a use of a child learned from the perpetrator in what the alleged perpetrator could have felt was a pastoral private communication is privileged information and the privledge belongs to the confessor not to the leader nor the church and such information cannot and should not be disclosed and the church leader must understand that he personally and the church in general can and should be sued in civil court for violation of privileged comminication.

  • TAB

    12) we should also acknowledge the efforts the Church has made such as marking records of child abusers so that a new congregation will know not to call the person to work with children which is rare among denominations and restricting parents from having a temple recommend if they don’t pay child support. We also red to acnowledge the service church leaders give to our youth and thier generally caring support. We should acknowledge that Church teachings and attitudes around sexuality are slowly changing and now masturbation is beginning to be something not focused as much upon and hopefully will be reframed from a sin to a personal matter and hopefully eventually to neutral or normative / beneficial practice within contexts.
    13) Also we should be very careful what we call abuse and grooming. One on one youth / adult interviews asking at a certain age if a youth lives the law of chastity is NOT abuse Boris it grooming. Calling it such demeans real abuse and confuses what real…

  • Mike Cawley

    I think I still have a letter signed by GORDON B HINCKLEY in 1994 PROMISING my wife he would “look into” her letter telling HIM that her LDS father (James Martinsen) molested her and sister(s) growing up. Now pay attention here. Her father had actually CONFESSED to THREE DIFFERENT BISHOPS, R. England, B. Keith, Nutt (Hi, remember me guys? Great job!), been reported by at least 2 daughters, me AND a grandchild. He WASN’T excommunicated, NOTHING was put in his record flagging him as a child molester. NOTHING! Not even a polite follow up from an “Apostle” who would go on to become a “Prophet.” Go ahead and ask me why I had my name removed from Church records. Really, just ask. This latest statement makes me want to puke! They’re BRAGGING about giving 50 speeches over a 40 year period??? What about the other 14,550 days in all those years? “Prophet? Inspired men of God? Only true church?” LOL!!!. I named names here so I’m leaving MY REAL NAME here too. I’m not that…

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  • savannah

    it isn’t just the LDS that have the don’t ask don’t tell philosophy. The more controlling a group is of its adherents, the more abuse is overlooked

  • savannah

    it is a form of sexual harrassment and does NOT belong in a church setting

  • Recovering

    I lived with a father in high rankings in the Mormon church. All my 4 sisters and I were abused. He also abused young girls in the “Bishop Interviews”. My sister took it to the Mormon church. They did excommunicate him and will not let him re-enter into the church. I will never live as a Mormon again, but I can say in our case the church did do something. Nothing is all evil and nothing is all good. Thankfully there are good people in with the horrible abusers that exist within that church.